Barr's Irn-Bru - Supporting Scottish Football

What To Do With Ched Evans

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Now I am not going to touch the trial and the speculation that inevitably goes with it. Welsh forward Ched Evans was found guilty of rape in 2012 and was jailed for five years. He has now served half of that sentence, due to British law he can now be released and it looks likely he will be out of jail tomorrow. Those are all facts.

With his impending release now imminent, the footballer )now twenty-five years old) will be expecting a return to professional football.

That has caused a bit of a stir, to say the least.

A lot of rumours are suggesting that his previous employers Sheffield United (who released him after his conviction) could be willing to take him back.

At the moment, a petition is doing the rounds with 145,000 signatures stating that they don’t want Ched Evans playing for Sheffield Utd again. You can understand that because quite simply he’ll go back to a cushty, well paid, high profile job as a convicted rapist. It is unsavoury.

But in our society, we are trying to have an equal playing field and many believe that once you’ve served your time in jail, then you have been rehabilitated and should be able to continue with your life. It shouldn’t really matter what your job is.

Now I believe that if Evans wants to resume his footballing career and a club want to hire him then fair enough.

The striker could help his own case if he comes out and shows some remorse. Not for the crime, as he is adamant he didn’t commit any crime. But he can still be remorseful for his behaviour which was seedy and sordid to say the very least.

What I would say is this, the football club has to remember their fans in all of this. No one player is bigger than the football club and its community. It is a distinct possibility that a club that signs Evans could suffer a split in its support.

Will most clubs care? 

Nope. Unfortunately even in delicate decisions such as this no club will sign Evans for any other reason than money. He is a commodity that had decent potential and at twenty-five still has resale value. They might say ‘we are helping him integrate back into society’ or that ‘everyone deserves a second chance’ but none of these clubs will have schemes set up to help other people with criminal records get jobs within their clubs. Just be honest and tell the truth, you’ve signed him to score goals. Would they sign an average full-back in the same circumstances? I doubt it.

I haven’t enjoyed the PFA’s stance in the whole situation. Obviously as a union they would back a member or a player having the opportunity to come back into the game and earn a wage. But instead of solely focusing on Ched Evans, they should be reaching out to rape charities and domestic abuse charities. Pay a donation, ask for their help (for seminars with players explaining the dos and don’ts) and overall show that they stand by the many victims of these horrible crimes.

I’ve been banging on about this for years now, football is a big business and that business has overtaken the sport element. That is why Ched Evans will sign for a football club. No other reason. But the fact remains that the footballing world could have handled the whole situation a lot better!

Can Blind Really Be The New Keane At Man Utd?

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Quite a bit has been mentioned about Roy Keane in the past week. One story hasn’t actually came from the Irishman himself. A few pundits and fans have insinuated that Manchester United new-boy Daley Blind could be the new or next Roy Keane.

Now I hate such comparisons. I always prefer letting players speak for themselves with their football on the pitch. I don’t think its productive to compare a new signing with a club legend, its hard enough to settle in at a new club without that excess baggage.

I also think its far too early to tell how good Blind will be at Old Trafford. When you look at him, you don’t see the combative, aggressive player that Keane was. But Keane established himself over twelve years.

Daley has came out and dismissed the comparisons saying “Let’s not go overboard.”

But there could be a major attribute that both could share, that might explain more of a likeness in the future.

It actually has very little to do with football, although both were/are the defensive lynchpins that hold together the United midfield.

I see more likeness in their roles given to them from their managers. I think both are the generals for the team, seen as the players that the managers rely on to get their point across to the rest of the team on the pitch. Leaders effectively.

Now obviously Keane and Sir Alex Ferguson have fallen out big time, since his departure from Man Utd in 2005. Each have had pot-shots at each other in their own autobiographies, but make no mistake both gentleman needed the other to gain the success they had together. Keane was Fergie’s general in the dressing room as well as on the pitch. During the good times, Ferguson wouldn’t have had a bigger confidant than Roy. The two worked in tandem and they trusted each other, they had too if United were to succeed. If the players needed to be told something on the pitch, the message would have came from Keane via Ferguson.

Daley Blind might have that responsibility under Louis van Gaal. The manager knows Blind and his qualities, he will trust him more than most. The player is also used to the Van Gaal philosophy and can get that across to his new teammates. Although I certainly don’t think he’ll do it in the same forceful manner as Roy did.

As people point to the similarities it’s also important to show the differences, as it’s a way to show that they are different players. Looking at Daley, he seems better on the ball and making passes forward. While Roy was more no nonsense in his tackling and shouting at everyone around him.

Ferguson has came out and compared  Blind to a younger Darren Fletcher. Now they do have a few similarities in their style of play but the Fergie’s comment also has a bit of spin to it. One, it is obviously less burden on the new young recruit as Fletcher isn’t a club legend like Keane. Two, it also has the added bonus of being a bit of a dig at Roy.

Overall, I still think it’s wrong to compare players but I can see why people can see a bit of Roy in Daley. Mainly due to their roles in the team rather than their style. It’s great that the new £14m man just dismisses it all and remains grounded because it will be extremely important for him to settle in and protect the defence.

Credit Should Be Given To Tired Sterling

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When I first read about Raheem Sterling asking for a break during the international fixtures, I thought to myself ‘what a prima-donna’. Imagine a nineteen year old boy moaning about playing too much professional football!

But then I took a step back and I applaud the decision.

Most kids of nineteen have no idea what they want to do with their lives never mind having the expectation of a nation on their shoulders as well as being a star player for a big side like Liverpool to deal with.

This season Liverpool’s whole training structure and mentality has had to change, they now have to concentrate on the Champions league as well as the Premier League. This is a huge step up, especially for a younger player like Sterling. He will have even more exciting games and big time opponents to deal with. That, at his age, can be mentally draining.

If you look into his background, he’s lived almost forty years in his nineteen! Seriously I was tired just reading about his life. Born in Jamaica in December 1994, moved to a huge city like London by the time he was five. Lost his estranged father, who was murdered when Raheem was just nine. Has a young daughter and two court cases to his name. That’s just the personal turmoil and upheaval that we know about.

He also made a move from London club QPR to Liverpool when he was fifteen, for a big fee of £600k that will only rise as he keeps progressing. Plus we also then have to factor in his England debut at the age of seventeen.

Now we are seeing weekly, if not daily, talk about new deals worth £100k plus and teams such as Chelsea and Real Madrid chasing him.

So there is no doubt that the youngster has already had a lot to contend with, both good and bad, in such a short space of time. All the while the media have watched his every move. Commenting on his form, his future and his personal life.

You then have to remember that he’s already made eighty-two appearances for Liverpool, in two and a bit seasons. He’s also been selected eleven times for the ‘Three Lions’. That is a lot for this great young prospect.

In the whole, from a football perspective he’s handled it well and produced some fantastic performances. But both Roy Hodgson (England) and Brendan Rodgers (Liverpool) have a duty to look out and after the player.

Firstly they need to diffuse the club versus country debate thats brewing due to Sterling’s admittance to feeling tired before the Estonia game. The player doesn’t need to see his two managers involved in a petty feud, even if they both insist they have his interests at heart.

Fans of both Liverpool and England, have to be wary of not expecting too much too soon from the nineteen year old either. Just because he has it in his locker to break opposing teams with his pace and tenacity, they will not see it every game at this moment in his career. He will also need a few breaks from time to time as he gets used to the rigours of top class European football.

Also we can’t forget after such a draining campaign last term, he then went to Brazil for his first World Cup. Obviously a privileged experience but also one that takes it out of veterans never mind young players just breaking through.

At Liverpool, they are missing the departed Luis Suarez. Daniel Sturridge has been injured and new boy Mario Balotelli hasn’t set the heather alight with his performances. But the fans and backroom staff can’t assume that Sterling can solve all their problems. At his age, he needs to remain grounded.

People will point the finger and say that Liverpool asked Sterling to take a break with England and for him to talk to Roy Hodgson. I don’t think that is true, but say it was true, that again just proves that Raheem is under too much pressure.

The player could be England’s next great hope and yet another world class star at Anfield. But we need to realise that he still needs time off, especially at his age. We cannot break him before he gets the chance to reach his full potential!

Lennon To Bolton Confuses Me!

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In the summer Neil Lennon left Celtic, feeling he had taken the club as far as he could. Getting away from the Glasgow fish bowl probably helped too.

Since his departure from Celtic Park, Lennon made a few comments relating to the Glasgow sides lack of spending and willingness to get things done in a timely fashion. It looked to me that the Northern Irish manager was protecting his CV, one which he made look very appealing with Celtic getting to the last sixteen in the Champions League, winning three league titles in a row and claiming a victory over the mighty Barcelona.

He went to the World Cup and impressed as a pundit for the BBC. Again it was good PR work from Lennon as he kept himself in the public eye and showed the footballing world he knew what he was talking about.

Since leaving Celtic various managerial positions have become available including the Crystal Palace, Southampton and West Brom jobs in the English Premier League. Yet for various reasons Lennon wasn’t offered these roles or he didn’t wanted them.

Now he has become the new Bolton Wanderers manager. The announcement was a bit of a surprise. For someone to leave Celtic, why would you go to Bolton?

I don’t mean to disrespect the Championship side, they have great fans and a wonderful stadium. But since their relegation in 2012 the club have been in a gradual decline and seem to be poorly run as they fail to get used to their surroundings.

Finances seem to be spent more on quantity rather than quality. The club boast a huge squad, but with little imagination and made up mainly of nearly men or players that haven’t/didn’t reach their full potential elsewhere.

At Celtic, Lennon was critical of the signing policy and not having a huge say. A lot of that was down to the transfer policy put in place by Chief Executive Peter Lawwell. Will Bolton’s Chairman Phil Gartside be any better?

Gartside is a figurehead who has loomed over the ‘Trotters’ for around fifteen years now. A run of poor decisions (deemed poor by Bolton fans) has seen the clubs supporters protest against Gartside earlier this month. The chairman has also suggested recently that the club could be sold off, if the right buyer is found.

The club are in debt to owner Eddie Davies to the tune of £160m, their spending days seem to be over.

Both Owen Coyle and Dougie Freedman were thought to be canny, young coaches who were well thought of before they took over at Bolton. Both left unable to change the clubs fortunes and causing a stain on their own CV’s.

So for the life of me, I just can’t see why Lennon would take on this job.

As I’ve mentioned the money doesn’t seem to be there anymore. The Championship is full of pitfalls and is an extremely tough league to get out of. With the current squad I doubt they are capable of challenging for a top six place. They currently lie bottom of the table after eleven games and only one win.

Now Lennon should come in and get the players believing in themselves again. He turned things around Parkhead quickly after he took over from Tony Mowbray, mainly because of the players renewed belief. He builds squads with good work ethic and that should be enough to see Bolton progress up the table but beyond mid-table? I just don’t know.

It’ll be interesting to see what funds Neil has come January if any? Maybe he sees a challenge at Bolton, the great support and rich tradition will have been a massive boost for him.

I hope it all goes well for him but looking at it, I’d have preferred the Fulham job and seen that as an easier route into the EPL.

Why was Lennon not considered for jobs in the top flight? Well people constantly deride any achievements from the Scottish leagues (They forget about Sir Alex’s history). For that reason alone I’d love to see Neil Lennon succeed but I think he might have a few big hurdles to over come if that’s going to happen at Bolton.

Strachan Has Scotland Purring Again!

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When Gordon Strachan was announced as the new Scotland boss, the fifty-seven year old banged on about finding a system that suited his players and not force his squad into a style.

Well fast forward twenty-one months and you can totally understand why it was so important for Strachan to find that system. It helps everything, especially getting the most out of the players and have them proud to be Scottish again.

The fact that it can be easily changed from functionally sound to vibrant depending on the opposition, is a huge bonus.

Against Georgia, we played an attack minded 4-2-3-1 formation. Every player on the pitch knew their job and played their part in securing a 1-0 victory, our first in this European Championship qualifying campaign. The team worked hard, passed their way out of trouble and into promising positions. Unlike previous pools, this Scotland side didn’t panic when up against a defensive, stubborn outfit like Georgia.

The Scots started brightly, with the wings being exploited. The wing-backs would skip beyond the wingers and the forwards would come in and receive the ball.

Goalkeeper David Marshall didn’t have any real problems to deal with. When the Georgians attacked they usually failed to see the goal or get shots on target. It’s fantastic to think we also have Allan McGregor and Craig Gordon in reserve for this campaign.

It’s fair to say we could still do with more classy central defenders. That said, Russell Martin and Grant Hanley have built up an efficient partnership with a good understanding. They may not be sensational as individual defenders but both work well as a defensive unit. It will be interesting to see how they cope with Robert Lewandowski on Tuesday night. But lets all remember we’ve seen worse!

The full-backs often played more like Brazilians than Scots. Both Andrew Robertson and Alan Hutton bombed forward whenever possible and didn’t struggle with their defensive duties. Having a natural left-back has been brilliant for the ‘Tartan Army’. The Hull City man Robertson may only be twenty years old but he has the head of a veteran. His constant crosses in from the left had the Georgians flapping and that helped create the eventual winner. Hutton’s recall to the Aston Villa starting eleven has been fantastic for Scotland, its that kind of luck that can help make or break an international campaign!

The two holding midfielders did well in marshalling in front of the defence and getting the ball to the creative players. Scott Brown has matured into a fine international player and deserves the captains armband. He still makes the odd mistake but he’s usually the first to rectify them. Still needs to keep his discipline in check, especially with bigger games to come. James Morrison also worked hard in a slightly deeper role than he’s used too. Impressed by getting his head down and keeping the ball moving forward.

Ikechi Anya offers a valuable commodity, with his burning pace. Had a quieter game against the Georgians, but showed away in Germany that he can be an outlet that create problems for any opposition. For too many years now Scotland lacked real pace in attack or in the wings, Anya now gives us that. In the away ties against Ireland, Poland and Georgia that could be vital as Scotland build on counter attacks.

Shaun Maloney offered his team creativity. He always looked for space and seemed happy with the ball at his feet. A smart player who has plenty of competition for his role with players like Ryan Gauld, Charlie Adam and Barry Bannan ready to fill his shirt given the opportunity.

Number ten Steven Naismith worked his socks off as he has done ever since Strachan took over in 2013. Has started really well for Everton this season and is has becoming a huge asset for the Scottish national team too. Links up well with all those around him. It’s equally impressive that he’s managed to stop moaning every few minutes, it was a habit that often ruined his game. He should have scored before being subbed but perhaps he’s saving it for midweek.

Striker Steven Fletcher did well without too many clear cut chances. Ran around and won a few flick-ons. Still not fully confident after his recent lull in form at club level but at least he’s working hard. Definitely our most complete forward who can cause defences trouble with his smart runs and his bullying nature.

It was unimaginable a few years back to think that even a 90% fit Darren Fletcher would sit on the bench during an international match. Yet Scotland are now strong in most positions and don’t need to rely on the Manchester United man. Also don’t forget we had £7m James McArthur sitting alongside him. The strength in-depth is fantastic compared to most squads in recent eras.

Don’t get me wrong it’s not all rosy for Scotland. They allowed Georgia a chance to get back into the game by giving them too much possession in the final twenty minutes. The Scots hung on but really should have killed the game off during the second half. We also have a tough group with Ireland and Poland capable of killing off our hopes. Ireland have won two out of two with an easy win over Gibraltar and a fine away victory over Georgia. Poland also thumped minnows Gibraltar before an excellent 2-0 win over world champs Germany.

Scotland gave a good account of themselves in Germany before losing 2-1 in Dortmund. The narrow win at Ibrox over Georgia was expected. So Tuesday’s fixture in Warsaw will be a fine opportunity to see just how well Scotland have progressed under Strachan. The Polish side will be confident after the result over rivals Germany and are an impressive outfit who are strong, hard to breakdown and have a world-class striker in Lewandowski.

The fact that Scotland will travel over to Poland and still fancy their chances of getting something out of the game, shows just what Strachan has done. He’s allowed the supporters the chance to believe again and Scotland are playing with a style that we can be proud of, we won’t be playing a 4-6-0 formation this campaign.

We may not have that world-class match winner yet, but once again Scotland play to their strengths and as a solid team!

Why I don’t Fully Support The Rooney Rule

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Let me start by stating I am not totally against ‘the Rooney rule‘ where black or ethnic minority coaches should be given a chance to interview for the coach/managers position at every football club that has a vacancy.

But I do have a few misgivings.

I’m not a huge fan of positive discrimination. Where does it end? Should women not get the same opportunities? Also look at the top jobs in England, hardly any have British managers. In the Premier League we have eight foreign bosses out of twenty clubs. In last seasons top four, only one club had a British manager. In the Championship the trend of hiring from abroad has grown too, with seven current managers coming from outside the UK. Four others have been sacked since the start of the season. So should we advocate having a rule where we protect the British managers too?

That could mean that owners have a long-list of candidates instead of a shortlist!

People like to bring up the fact that there were only five black managers in English football at the start of the 2013/14 season and that none of them remained come the end of that campaign. It’s true and its unfortunate to say the least. But in this age of panic and sack the manager, people fail to look at the managers in question and their records.

Chris Hughton, is a talented coach that I like, failed to get Norwich City playing at their best. They had a miserable end to the season and he was sacked in April. In his last six games in charge, the club lost four of them and the fans were calling for him to be sacked.

Paul Ince was sacked at Blackpool after almost a year in charge. He won only twelve out of his forty-two games at the helm. He had disciplinary issues that resulted in a five match stadium ban and the fans were dead against him by the end. Ince is a funny one, he has had various opportunities as a manager with a mixed bag of results. I admire the fact he started at the bottom as a coach but he seems to have found his level in the lower leagues.

Chris Powell, yet another good manager who had done a fantastic job at Charlton during his stint there. Yet in his final season Charlton were bottom of the Championship when he departed and had only won six out of their thirty league fixtures. Powell is now back in the game and doing well with Huddersfield Town in the Championship.

Chris Kiwomya was in charge of Notts County for eight months after being promoted within the club. His attacking, attractive style wasn’t good enough to keep County off bottom spot and he left after only two wins in opening thirteen fixtures of 2013/14 season.

Edgar Davids is a Dutch international legend who surprisingly took over at Barnet in October of 2012. He couldn’t keep them from being relegated out of the football league and he left the club in January 2014 struggling to adapt to life in the Conference.

Those records would have seen most managers getting their marching orders, no matter their skin colour. We’ve been in a ‘dump the manager’ era long enough to see that. As far as I can see that culture doesn’t discriminate. It’s a culture that should change, I’d love to see managers get more time at clubs but in this money orientated era it’s not going to happen.

As far as I’m concerned the right person should get the job no matter what. Does that always happen in football? No but it doesn’t always happen in life either.

People want more transparency when it comes to the managers jobs in football, but do we ‘Joe Public’ get that in everyday life? Nope. I went for an ideal job and met all the criteria, yet for some reason didn’t get an interview. That’s life. Why do we fixate on the high profile?

If we are going to look at changing the criteria for becoming a manager then we should do it in a manner that is equal to all. For example, no one should get a managers job without all the relevant badges. They should work as a coach or assistant for two years. A detailed criteria would then show everyone a transparent way to get to the top.

The days of fast tracking former pros like Gareth Southgate, Alan Shearer and the likes should be gone. People should be getting their badges started during their playing careers and help coaching the reserves if they want jobs straight after playing.

FIFA vice president Jeffrey Webb has called for English teams to adopt the ‘Rooney Rule’. I have a few issues to pick up on with Mr Webb. He talks about the discussion being ‘hidden’, I don’t see that. It is a topic that comes up time and again, and so it should. Just because I don’t agree totally with the ‘Rooney Rule’ doesn’t mean I don’t believe we shouldn’t have the debate. Just going on the number of column inches Mr Webb received is enough proof that we take interest in the topic. I also don’t like the fact he brought Eddie Newton into it. Newton has a job at Chelsea and if he isn’t getting offered job interviews after handing in his CV then he and only he should come out and tell his story. Plus maybe Jeffery Webb could come out publicly and challenge Sepp Blatter and demand that corruption findings be published for all to see. FIFA is the biggest hiders in our game, as far as I can see.

Plus why did he not include all of Europe’s league, why just England? That’s bizarre. Maybe it’s because we’ve been discussing the matter.

Now one of my big problems with the ‘Rooney Rule’ is that it’s aimed at helping the already privileged. Former players who have made bundles of cash and now want to be managers. Don’t get me, wrong these people shouldn’t be discriminated against if they are suited to those roles.

But surely as a society we should be actively trying to help everyone as much as possible.

For example, we don’t hear about there being not enough black referees or club doctors. We don’t see enough from the FA’s encouraging more British Asians to take up the sport and try and become pros. Why can’t we have more tickets for kids that have lost loved ones, who are ill or who are almost destitute?

My main point is this.

By all means go for your ‘Rooney Rule’ but there is much more to discrimination than just skin colour and top, high profile jobs. Why do we never start at the bottom and work our way up and help as many people as possible regardless of their ethnicity, gender or class status?

Celtic’s Problems Run Deeper Than Just Deila

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Reaction from certain Celtic fans to the slow start of new coach Ronny Deila’s tenure at Parkhead has been pretty predictable.

Hordes of supporters have been on social media and radio phone-ins stating: ‘He’s too inexperienced‘, ‘He doesn’t have the dressing room on his side’ and ‘We need someone Celtic minded‘.

The first two statements may have an element of truth to them. I don’t hold much in the last one; Lou Macari and Tony Mowbray were Celtic minded,yet  both were useless as Celtic bosses. Even the great Tommy Burns failed to win a title, even though he brought back exciting football to Glasgow’s East End.

Plus let’s not forget that it was Dutchman Wim Jansen that stopped Rangers ten in a row bid. He wasn’t more Celtic minded than Burns, but did have the experience needed to win a Championship.

But the fact is this, Ronny Deila isn’t the main problem at Celtic.

Look at this BLOG from @Krys1888 to understand why Celtic are in their current rut.

Now this is the problem. Celtic have extremely passionate fans and are run by men who count the pennies and lack imagination. Its the old debate which comes first, the business or the football club?

No one can argue with Peter Lawwell’s overall record at Celtic. But should he now step aside?

As a PLC Celtic owe their shareholders reasons for doing what they do. They need to be transparent. Yet many of those shareholders are huge fans who want to see the club run more in keeping to Celtic’s traditions. Trust in the board has been in decline for a while now.

The fans obviously understand that money is always going to be an important issue. No one wants to be in the position Rangers are in.

But their demands aren’t excessive. They want more transparency when it comes to transfers. Over the past few years they have seen the clubs sell off top assets like Fraser Forster, Ki Sung Yueng, Gary Hooper, Victor Wanyama and Joe Ledley for big fees. Plus they’ve lost Georgios Samaras and Kelvin Wilson. All key players. Most of them haven’t been replaced with adequate replacements.

Money has been spent but signings like Mo Bangura, Teemu Pukki, Nir Biton and Amido Balde haven’t cut the mustard. The likes of Virgil van Dijk, Stefan Johansen have improved the squad slightly but surely the famed Celtic scouting team need to do better.

They have spent the last summer bringing in loans, a free transfer and then Stefan Šćepović from Sporting Gijon. Lawwell explained that because Rangers are not in top flight Celtic have had to cut their cloth accordingly. Yet the same man stated that Celtic didn’t need Rangers to ‘flourish financially’. It’s funny how Lawwell usually keeps his jibes at Rangers for when he needs to defect criticism away from himself.

As Krys explains in his blog, the Celtic board continually fail to build on success. They react slowly and try and get every ounce from the squads that they have. Sometimes to get into the prestigious Champions League you need to speculate to accumulate.

Everyone and their dog knew that Celtic’s squad wasn’t strong enough to get to the group stages this term if it wasn’t improved upon. Too much is dependent on captain Scott Brown. They need more leaders, a goalscorer and someone who can make that decisive pass.

Celtic’s failure to reach the group stages is all down to the inactive board not a coach who has little to say when it comes to bringing in players. You can’t build your whole transfer policy on hope alone! Surely the shareholders deserve better?

Now passionate Celtic fans look at their club becoming a bit of a stale and are concerned or losing interest. It’s another reason why they want a ‘Celtic man’ as boss. Because they want someone that they can relate to and get behind.

But Celtic’s money men could make the club more like a community base than a business and that could ignite enthusiasm again.

What do I mean?

  • Well involve the fans in more key decision making processes and just listen to them more. Why not have at least one fan appointed board member?
  • Have a transparent study looking at the pros and cons of brining in a living wage policy for all the staff at Parkhead. It’s an issue that lots of Celtic supporters believe in and it is one that founders of the club would’ve supported. So at least look into it and publish a report that shows you respect the views of your fans/shareholders.
  • Show that your interest in recruiting doesn’t start and end with one week left in the transfer window.

A club like Celtic need to realise that their fans are more than just customers that you can fleece. To make the business work at it’s optimum everyone needs to work together.

Now I am not saying Ronny Deila is the right manager for Celtic, I still believe it’s too early to tell but the fact remains that a lot of the supporters feel like outsiders looking in.They are disgruntled and the manager is an easy target. Of course a change in coach might excite a few but the fundamental problems will remain. Also lets not forget that Roy Keane and Henrik Larsson turned down the job last time, working for this board at this time seems to be unappealing even to the ‘Celtic minded’ managers out there.

Only a change in attitude from the top will make Celtic harmonious again. Yet I believe Lawwell and co are yet again just going on hope. Hope that they’ll win the league, hope that they can scrape through to the Champions League next term without proper investment, hope that Van Dijk can be offloaded for £8m or more and hope that Rangers come back next term.

David De Gea!!! The Man That Might Get Man Utd Back Into Top Four

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As a goalkeeper, you sometimes don’t get the credit you deserve. The creative stars and the goalscorers usually get all the acclaim. But that can’t be said of Manchester United’s David de Gea last weekend.

The Spaniard was terrific against Everton and made some world class saves at the end of the game to deny Everton any points. He also got down well and saved Leighton Baines unconvincing penalty just before half-time. De Gea’s display was vital in securing United the victory and helping his side climb into the ‘Top Four’ once again.

That theme may have to continue throughout this campaign if Man United stand any chance of finishing in one those four key positions.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the United defence is still unpredictable as it suffers from too many injuries and mistakes. They can become very vulnerable during games and that allows the opposition to create clear cut chances. That inevitably leaves the goalkeeper exposed. It happened against Burnley and again De Gea saved them. It happened constantly at Leicester and obviously the young keeper couldn’t stem the flow that time.

If the defence isn’t going to improve dramatically then a lot of games will rest on De Gea’s shoulders. As he proved against Everton, he can be the difference between one point and three.

Both managers gave him special recognition after the win over Everton .

Manchester United’s Louis van Gaal said…

“He made three magnificent saves and we won because of that,”

Whilst Everton’s Roberto Martinez offered…

“De Gea was the man of the match and the difference in the scoreline.”

Gone are the clumsy and unassured early days, De Gea suffered in 2012-13. He has matured and has become stronger, both in body and mind. The twenty-three year old doesn’t shirk his responsibilities and like most fine goalkeepers he isn’t scared at getting his point across to his teammates.

As United’s season unfolds the Spanish internationalist will become an even bigger asset. Undoubtably his saves and performances will help those defenders in front of him as he instills confidence. But alas he can’t do it all on his own. The injuries need to clear up and his Dutch manager needs to settle on his preferred back four.

The fantastic shot-stopper must be closing in on Spain’s number one jersey too. Iker Casillas is becoming too error prone, Victor Valdes has a long term injury and Pepe Reina is on the Bayern bench.

Had you said during David’s debut season at Man Utd that in a few years this raw teenager would end up being one of the clubs best performers and that he’d be on the cusp of becoming Spain’s new number one, then many a rival would have scoffed. But the determination of David de Gea to succeed and improve has seen that happen.

Can he really get Man United a top four finish?

Well he can’t do it by himself, but they are far superior with him in the team and he has now become one of the Premier League’s top goalkeepers. So surely that has got to help!

Steven Fletcher Needs To Keep Up The Momentum

Steven-Fletcher

It looked as though the weight of the world had been lifted off of Steven Fletcher’s shoulders when he nodded home a Jordi Gomez cross on the twenty-third minute mark against Stoke City this past Saturday.

That was the Scotsman’s first strike this calendar year and it ended the strikers personal thirteen game goal drought!

Now when discussing Fletcher’s poor form in front of goal, it would be wrong not to factor in a few reasons that helped the slump. He has been unfit for the majority of the year after suffering from numerous injuries and niggles. He, along with the rest of the Sunderland squad suffered during the Paolo Di Canio reign and low morale had set in at the stadium of light.

But Fletcher is still only twenty-seven. He has a decent Premier League record with 46 strikes in 149 appearances.

Many a striker goes through similar slumps in form. Chances stop falling to you, you make the wrong decisions and the keepers get bigger, while the goals get smaller. But it’s how you react to the positives of scoring that ultimately says more about you as a striker. If you can get out of that rut with a bang then you are on course for redemption.

After his opening goal of the season, the hitman just had to wait another 56 minutes until he got his second. He made a clever run into the far post, where he managed to steer home the ball after a miss-kick from teammate Jack Rodwell. He was once again the man on hand at the right time!

It’s that kind of luck a striker thrives on. Obviously you still need to make the smart run to the back post and finish the chance off but it was luck that got the ball to your feet.

Also lets not forget that it was Steven that set up fellow forward Connor Wickham for Sunderland’s opener on the fourth minute. Just being apart of that goal would have given ‘Fletch’ confidence.

Fletcher now needs to use that brace against Stoke as a springboard to more goals and better all round performances.

I am a big admirer of the strikers style of play, when he’s on form. He can run into the channels, he is terrific in the air and gets into great positions because of his intelligent runs and movement.

Before his injury problems and lull in form, I was thinking that the £12m man was knocking on the door to score fifteen, maybe even twenty goals a season. I feel he has all the tools. Fletcher possess good strength that allows him to bully defenders at set-pieces and the intelligence to gain space in the penalty area. He just needs to have the confidence to believe in his own ability and keep on that scoring track.

He nows heads back to Scotland, for games against Georgia and Poland. It would be fantastic for the ‘Tartan Army’ if he can continue where he left off against Stoke and then he’ll be even more confident for Sunderland’s remaining fixtures of 2014. What better way to forget the horrible start to the year if he can finish it with a bang.

It’ll be interesting to see if Steven Fletcher can prove me right and continue to improve this term, now that he’s finally off the mark!

Chelsea Turn Back Time In This Title Race

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This weekend seemed to take us back in time.

Goals from Papiss Cisse, Nikica Jelavic and Steven Fletcher made us think we were back in 2012. Manchester United are once again in the ‘Top Four’ and Newcastle United are facing the same relegation fight nightmare they had back in 2009.

Chelsea’s start to the campaign has also been familiar. It’s very reminiscent of Jose Mourinho’s first era in charge at Stamford Bridge back between 2004 and 2007.

The squad have started at a gallop that no competing outfit has been able to keep up with so far this season. No longer can their Portuguese boss call his side the ‘Little Horses’.

Today they managed to brush past London rivals Arsenal without much fuss.

That win means that the ‘Blues’ have now won six out of their first seven outings. They also managed to draw away against last years league champions Man City. That impressive start has seen Chelsea take top spot and already gain a five point advantage over City who lie in second place.

See, that was the Jose formula during his first stint as Chelsea boss. Start off the campaign flying, get some breathing space between themselves and their nearest rivals and then relentlessly march on to the league title in May.

Chelsea, like a decade ago, rely on a strong core through the middle of the team.

Twenty-two year old Thibaut Courtois has replaced Petr Cech as Chelsea’s number one and has looked assured. His presence in between the sticks is dramatic and his aerial prowess can be intimating to opposing strikers. A strong reliable goalkeeper that will only get better in my opinion.

Then there’s John Terry and Gary Cahill. The two English centre-backs have formed a formidable partnership that rarely concedes goals and can threaten at the other end too. Much has been made about Terry’s off the field antics but he’s still a tremendous leader on the park.

Another formidable partnership is that of Nemanja Matic and Cesc Fabregas in the middle of the park. They have been awesome as a duo so far this term. Matic does a lot of the dirty work; getting around the pitch, making tackles and getting the ball back for the team. He will then pass it on to Cesc who seems to find time and space effortlessly. The Spaniard has managed an incredible seven assists in seven EPL games so far. These two work so well together in the engine room and they keep dictating the tempo this season.

Up top they have the highly regarded and heralded Diego Costa. The Spanish striker has power, pace and awareness that remind me of a younger Didier Drogba at the Bridge. He has been clinical so far in the league with his nine strikes in seven games. The bulky forward also does his part defending from the front and getting back and helping out against opposing set-pieces.

That core then gives the creative talents like Eden Hazard, Andre Schurrle, Willian and Oscar all that they need to do something special and help turn games. That said, it wouldn’t be a Jose team if those creative players didn’t have to put in a shift too.

As teams in England’s top flight take in this international break, they will do so thinking ‘what is it we can do to stop this Chelsea team?‘.

There are no easy answers. Mourinho’s men seem equally equipped at digging deep to get the points as they are at passing you to death and creating magic in an instant that can kill games off!

Last season, they were close to the title but Jose knew his squad was missing a few key players. Now with a midfield maestro like Cesc Fabregas and a proven hungry goalscorer in Diego Costa, they have the necessary tools to dismantle most sides in the league.

Chelsea have thrown down the gauntlet, can anyone pick it up and put up a challenge?

Not if history is anything to go by! Jose and his players will now welcome the chase.